One of the biggest events on the NSW Juniors calendar, the NSW Junior State Championships, was held on the June long weekend, featuring some of the best junior rugby talent in Australia. Close to 3,000 junior players and 500 match officials participated in the event, which has been a major feature of grassroots rugby in NSW for over 50 years.
This was the fourth year that the Melbourne Rugby Club has taken a team to compete at the NSW Junior Rugby State Championships. This year the destination was Orange in country NSW, a leisurely eight hours drive from Melbourne. As the Club has done in the past few years, the side was selected from a core group of Melbourne Unicorns players and topped up with some players from other Melbourne-based clubs. This year the Club welcomed five players from Moorabbin, Wyndham and Southern Districts who were chosen because they could add strength in positions where Melbourne are not traditionally strong or needed back up.
The first match was against the Central Coast. In the first half Melbourne looked like they had only just got out of bed, which to a degree was true. They were slow to start, lacked a little direction up front and cohesion in the backs. But as the ring rust settled the boys got into the groove and scored three good tries to come away with a first up 15-5 win.
The second match was against eventual grand finalists Sydney University. From the opening whistle the boys were on song. Powerful forward drives with excellent structure gave the backs some room to showcase their thing. An early try gave Melbourne momentum that did not fade until oranges at half time. Sydney Uni got the benefit of some odd decisions and managed to take a narrow lead into the last quarter. Melbourne were not done with and scored in the final minute to take the lead and finish the game ahead 19-15. An outstanding win against one of the premier representative teams in the State.
Day Two saw the final pool match against North Sydney. The team were going well early in the match and crossed the stripe twice only to have the referee bring the play back for various reasons. The lack of early reward took the wind out of Melbourne’s sails and Norths crossed twice during the second half to finish off the pool round with a 15-5 win.
In the afternoon Melbourne entered the play off games. Unfortunately the loss to North Sydney mean’t that Melbourne met up with eventual tournament winners Eastwood. They were big, fast and extremely well drilled. Their first 15 minutes was super rugby quality and almost impossible to defend against. By half time they were 24 up and Melbourne was facing a blow out.
Whatever the coaches said at half time worked though because Melbourne kept Eastwood scoreless for the entire second half. The Unicorns needed to lift and match the intensity of the big Woodies forwards, which is a exactly what they did. It was a big bash fest and Melbourne didn’t shirk the hard work until the final whistle. Again Melbourne crossed the strip, but could not get the ball down. The second half comeback earned some high praise from the opposition coaches who thought our team did exceptionally well to come back the way they did.
The final game was the play off for seventh and eighth on Monday against the Brumbies. The team was looking forward to playing this game and it showed from the kick off. It was fast, furious and Melbourne attacked the Brumbies time and time again. Unfortunately the Unicorns again failed to cross the paint for points. At half time it was nil all and the boys had played the best 25 minutes of rugby they had put together all tournament.
The touring team travelled to Orange with just 19 players of the 25 permitted and in the latter stages of the second half the team simply ran out of juice. The Brumbies ran in four quick tries in the last few minutes for a 25-0 final score that was in no way indicative of the closeness of the game.
In the end a terrific tournament in every respect. The Club’s goal is to use these tours as an opportunity to improve their player’s rugby skills by exposing them to the best talent in NSW as well as to give them a great rugby touring experience in the process. By these two measures alone the tour was an outstanding success.